MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. - It may have been the national "Play4Kay" initiative that was front and center at today's Central Michigan women's basketball game, but the Chippewas were playing for something closer to home and closer to their hearts - they were playing for Katie.
For five-year old Katie Johns, who has brightened the Chippewas' bench all season long despite her fight with cancer, today was her day.
It was her day to inspire the Chippewas, back at home with Katie after back-to-back road losses without her. It was her day to don her very own pink Chippewas jersey. And it was her day to be recognized on the back of each and every player's special jersey, on this day where the rest of the nation was "playing for Kay."
"We were playing for Katie today," said sophomore forward Crystal Bradford. "That's who we wanted to represent."
"It was great to make her smile," said fellow sophomore Jas'Mine Bracey. "She deserves it."
"Just seeing her lights up our day," Bradford continued. "We wanted to come out and be strong for Katie because she is the strongest girl in the world."
Strong is probably an understatement.
Katie is battling a brain tumor. She has cancer.
"With the fortitude, the determination, and the strength she has to go through this and still be sure she is here for us," said head coach Sue Guevara, "she touches a lot of our hearts."
And that is why the Chippewas are doing something for her.
"Is there something we can do to help cancer research that will help that little five-year old, or help anybody else?" remarked Guevara. "It takes research. And research takes money. So this is just one avenue where we can help."
As part of today's pink initiative, fans arriving at McGuirk Arena were greeted with many opportunities to support research for women's cancer treatments, financially or otherwise. T-shirts were sold. Donations were accepted. And during a media timeout in the first half, fans recognized their own "Katies" by holding up signs of loved ones who have touched them through cancer.
How did Katie, dressed in her "13 1/2" jersey because of her affinity for No. 13 Jessica Schroll, react to her special day?
"She gave us all candy in the locker room after the game for winning," said Bracey.
Yet another bright spot for Katie and the Chippewas as they continue their fight.